In this article we provide a unifying neural hypothesis on how individuals understand the actions and emotions of others. Our main claim is that the fundamental mechanism at the basis of the experiential understanding of others' actions is the activation of the mirror neuron system. A similar mechanism, but involving the activation of viscero-motor centers, underlies the experiential understanding of the emotions of others.
Simulation theories of social cognition abound in the literature, but it is often unclear what simulation means and how it works. The discovery of mirror neurons, responding both to action execution and observation, suggested an embodied approach to mental simulation. Over the last years this approach has been hotly debated and alternative accounts have been proposed. We discuss these accounts and argue that they fail to capture the uniqueness of embodied simulation (ES). ES theory provides a unitary account of basic (...) social cognition, demonstrating that people e their own mental states or processes represented with a bodily format in functionally attributing them to others. (shrink)
Concepts are the elementary units of reason and linguistic meaning. They are conventional and relatively stable. As such, they must somehow be the result of neural activity in the brain. The questions are: Where? and How? A common philosophical position is that all concepts—even concepts about action and perception—are symbolic and abstract, and therefore must be implemented outside the brain’s sensory-motor system. We will argue against this position using (1) neuroscientific evidence; (2) results from neural computation; and (3) results about (...) the nature of concepts from cognitive linguistics. We will propose that the sensory-motor system has the right kind of structure to characterise both sensory-motor and more abstract concepts. Central to this picture are the neural theory of language and the theory of cogs, according to which, brain structures in the sensory-motor regions are exploited to characterise the so-called “abstract” concepts that constitute the meanings of grammatical constructions and general inference patterns. (shrink)
My initial scope will be limited: starting from a neurobiological standpoint, I will analyse how actions are possibly represented and understood. The main aim of my arguments will be to show that, far from being exclusively dependent upon mentalistic/linguistic abilities, the capacity for understanding others as intentional agents is deeply grounded in the relational nature of action. Action is relational, and the relation holds both between the agent and the object target of the action , as between the agent of (...) the action and his/her observer . Agency constitutes a key issue for the understanding of intersubjectivity and for explaining how individuals can interpret their social world. This account of intersubjectivity, founded on the empirical findings of neuroscientific investigation, will be discussed and put in relation with a classical tenet of phenomenology: empathy. I will provide an 'enlarged' account of empathy that will be defined by means of a new conceptual tool: the shared manifold of intersubjectivity. (shrink)
The same neural structures involved in the unconscious modeling of our acting body in space also contribute to our awareness of the lived body and of the objects that the world contains. Neuroscientific research also shows that there are neural mechanisms mediating between the multi-level personal experience we entertain of our lived body, and the implicit certainties we simultaneously hold about others. Such personal and body-related experiential knowledge enables us to understand the actions performed by others, and to directly decode (...) the emotions and sensations they experience. A common functional mechanism is at the basis of both body awareness and basic forms of social understanding: embodied simulation. It will be shown that the present proposal is consistent with some of the perspectives offered by phenomenology. (shrink)
The aim of our paper is to show that there is a sense of body that is enactive in nature and that enables to capture the most primitive sense of self. We will argue that the body is primarily given to us as source or power for action, i.e., as the variety of motor potentialities that define the horizon of the world in which we live, by populating it with things at hand to which we can be directed and with (...) other bodies we can interact with. We will show that this sense of body as bodily self is, on the one hand, antecedent the distinction between sense of agency and sense of ownership, and, on the other, it enables and refines such distinction, providing a conceptual framework for the coherent interpretation of a variety of behavioral and neuropsychological data. We will conclude by positing that the basic experiences we entertain of our selves as bodily selves are from the very beginning driven by our interactions with other bodies as they are underpinned by the mirror mechanism. (shrink)
To have an ontology is to interpret a world. In this paper we argue that the brain, viewed as a representational system aimed at interpreting our world, possesses an ontology too. It creates primitives and makes existence assumptions. It decomposes target space in a way that exhibits a certain invariance, which in turn is functionally significant. We will investigate which are the functional regularities guiding this decomposition process, by answering to the following questions: What are the explicit and implicit assumptions (...) about the structure of reality, which at the same time shape the causal profile of the brain's motor output and its representational deep structure, in particular of the conscious mind arising from it (its ''phenomenal output'')? How do they constrain high-level phenomena like conscious experience, the emergence of a first-person perspective, or social cognition? By reviewing a series of neuroscientific results and integrating them with a wider philosophical perspective, we will emphasize the contribution the motor system makes to this process. As it will be shown, the motor system constructs goals, actions, and intending selves as basic constituents of the world it interprets. It does so by assigning a single, unified causal role to them. Empirical evidence demonstrates that the brain models movements and action goals in terms of multimodal representations of organism-object-relations. Under a representationalist analysis, this process can be conceived of as an internal, dynamic representation of the intentionality-relation itself. We will show how such a complex form of representational content, once it is in place, can later function as a functional building block for social cognition and for a more complex, consciously experienced representation of the first-person perspective as well. (shrink)
The representational dynamics of the brain is a subsymbolic process, and it has to be conceived as an "agent-free" type of dynamical self-organization. However, in generating a coherent internal world-model, the brain decomposes target space in a certain way. In doing so, it defines an "ontology": to have an ontology is to interpret a world. In this paper we argue that the brain, viewed as a representational system aimed at interpreting the world, possesses an ontology too. It decomposes target space (...) in a way that exhibits certain invariances, which in turn are functionally significant. A challenge for empirical research is to determine which are the functional regularities guiding this decomposition process. What are the explicit and implicit assumptions about the structure of reality, which at the same time shape the causal profile of the brain's motor output and the representational deep structure of the conscious mind arising from it (its "phenomenal output")? How do they constrain high-level phenomena like conscious experience, the emergence of a first-person perspective, or social cognition? By reviewing a series of neuroscientific results, we focus on the contribution the motor system makes to this process. As it turns out, the motor system constructs goals, actions, and intending selves as basic constituents of the world it interprets. It does so by assigning a single, unified causal role to them. Empirical evidence now clearly shows how the brain actually codes movements and action goals in terms of multimodal representations of organism-object relations. Under a representationalist analysis, this process can be interpreted as an internal representation of the intentionality relation itself. We try to show how such a more complex form of representational content, once it is in place, can later function as the building block for social cognition and a for more complex, consciously experienced representation of the first-person perspective as well. The motor system may therefore play a decisive role in understanding how the functional ontology of the human brain could be gradually extended into the subjective and social domains. (shrink)
Discusses the possibility of reconciling different articulations of intentionality from a neurobiological perspective. The author analyzes the relationship between agency and representation and how representation is intrinsically related to action control. The author also presents a new account of action, arguing against what is still commonly held as its proper definition, namely the final outcome of a cascade-like process that starts from the analysis of sensory data, incorporates the result of decision processes, and ends up with responses (actions) to externally-or (...) internally-generated stimuli. The author discusses recent findings from the investigation of neural mechanisms that are at the basis of sensorimotor integration. (shrink)
In the present paper we address the issue of the role of the body in shaping our basic self-awareness. It is generally taken for granted that basic bodily self-awareness has primarily to do with proprioception. Here we challenge this assumption by arguing from both a phenomenological and a neurophysiological point of view that our body is primarily given to us as a manifold of action possibilities that cannot be reduced to any form of proprioceptive awareness. By discussing the notion of (...) affordance and the spatiality of the body we show that both have to be construed in terms of the varying range of our power for action. Finally, we posit that the motor roots of our bodily self-awareness shed new light on both the common ground for and the distinguishing criterium between self and other. The properties of the mirror mechanism indicate that the same action possibilities constituting our bodily self also allow us to make sense of other bodily selves inasmuch as their action possibilities can be mapped onto our own ones. Our proposal may pave the way towards a general deconstruction of the different layers at the core of our full-fledged sense of self and others. (shrink)
The aim of the present article is three-fold. First, it aims to show that perception requires action. This is most evident for some types of visual percept . Second, it aims to show that the distinction of the cortical visual processing into two streams is insufficient and leads to possible misunderstandings on the true nature of perceptual processes. Third, it aims to show that the dorsal stream is not only responsible for the unconscious control of action, but also for the (...) conscious awareness of space and action. (shrink)
Crucial in Girard's Mimetic Theory is the notion of mimetic desire, viewed as appropriative mimicry, the main source of aggressiveness and violence characterizing our species. The intrinsic value of the objects of our desire is not as relevant as the fact that the very same objects are the targets of others' desire. One could in principle object against such apparently negative and one-sided view of mankind, in general, and of mimesis, in particular. However, such argument would misrepresent Girard's thought. Girard (...) himself acknowledged that mimetic desire is also good in itself, because is at the basis of love, and even more importantly because it's the opening out of oneself. Starting from the notion of desire as openness to others I will discuss from a neuroscientific perspective the implications for social cognition of mimesis against the background of Girard's Mimetic Theory, an ideal starting framework to foster a multidisciplinary approach to the study of human intersubjectivity. It will be posited that a different, not mutually exclusive, account of mimesis leads to social identification henceforth to sociality. Mimesis is neither good or bad, but has the potentials to lead not only to mimetic violence but also to the most creative aspects of human cognition. Results of empirical research in neuroscience and developmental psychology show that such account of mimesis finds solid supporting evidence. It will be concluded that a thorough and biologically plausible account of human intersubjectivity requires the integration of both sides of mimesis. (shrink)
Schizophrenia spectrum has been associated with a disruption of the basic sense of self, which pertains, among others, the representation of one’s own body. We investigated the impact of either implicit or explicit access to the representation of one’s own body-effectors on bodily self-awareness, in first-episode schizophrenia patients and healthy controls . We contrasted their performance in an implicit self-recognition task and in an explicit self/other discrimination task. Both tasks employed participant’s own and others’ body-effectors. Concerning the implicit task, HCs (...) were more accurate with their own than with others’ body-effectors, whereas patients did not show such self-advantage. Regarding the explicit task, both groups did not exhibit a self-advantage, and patients showed a higher percentage of self-misattribution errors. Neither self/other nor implicit/explicit effects were found in both groups when processing inanimate-objects. We propose that FES patients suffer of a disturbed implicit sense of bodily self. (shrink)
The present contribution is mainly intended to illustrate how some recent discoveries in the field of neurosciences have revolutionized our ideas about perception, action and cognition, and how these new neuro-scientific perspectives can shed light on the human relationship to art and aesthetics, in the frame of an approach known as "experimental aesthetics". Experimental aesthetics addresses the problem of artistic images by investigating the brain-body physiological correlates of the aesthetic experience and human creativity, providing a perspective that is complementary, and (...) not in opposition, to the humanistic one on the arts and the aesthetic. (shrink)
Empathy is the phenomenal experience of mirroring ourselves into others. It can be explained in terms of simulations of actions, sensations, and emotions which constitute a shared manifold for intersubjectivity. Simulation, in turn, can be sustained at the subpersonal level by a series of neural mirror matching systems.
Recent discoveries in neuroscience, among which that of mirror neurons ,have strongly influenced the debate on spatial cognition, action, emotion andempathy, all aspects that in recent years have been deeply reconsidered within film studies. This article focuses on the role embodied simulation theory—triggered by the discovery of MNs—plays in film experience. ES has beenproposed to constitute a basic functional mechanism of humans’ brain.Because of a shared bodily representational format, we map the actions of others onto our own motor representations, as (...) well as others’ emotions and sensations onto our own viscero-motor and sensory-motor representations. We wonder how relevant this mechanism is in our film experience reconsidering both classical and recent theories that to some extent have foreshadowed ES, and testing our hypotheses through the stylistic analysis of two sequences from Hitchcock’s Notorious and Antonioni’s Il grido. (shrink)
The Visual Brain in Action by Milner and Goodale provides a new conceptual account of how the brain processes visual information. Milner and Goodale make two major points: The dorsal stream processes visual information for motor purposes; Action and perception are two completely separate domains, the latter being an exclusive property of the ventral stream. In the first part of this review we will summarize some recent neurophysiological data shedding new light on the "pragmatic" role of the visual information processed (...) in the dorsal stream, and thus corroborating the theoretical views of Milner and Goodale . In the second part we will discuss some recent neurophysiological, neuropsychological and brain imaging studies suggesting that the dichotomy proposed by Milner and Goodale between action and perception is probably too rigid. (shrink)
In spite of their striking differences with real-life perception, films are perceived and understood without effort. Cognitive film theory attributes this to the system of continuity editing, a system of editing guidelines outlining the effect of different cuts and edits on spectators. A major principle in this framework is the 180° rule, a rule recommendation that, to avoid spectators’ attention to the editing, two edited shots of the same event or action should not be filmed from angles differing in a (...) way that expectations of spatial continuity are strongly violated. In the present study, we used high-density EEG to explore the neural underpinnings of this rule. In particular, our analysis shows that cuts and edits in general elicit early ERP component indicating the registration of syntactic violations as known from language, music, and action processing. However, continuity edits and cuts-across the line differ from each other regarding later components likely to be indicating the differences in spatial remapping as well as in the degree of conscious awareness of one's own perception. Interestingly, a time–frequency analysis of the occipital alpha rhythm did not support the hypothesis that such differences in processing routes are mainly linked to visual attention. On the contrary, our study found specific modulations of the central mu rhythm ERD as an indicator of sensorimotor activity, suggesting that sensorimotor networks might play an important role. We think that these findings shed new light on current discussions about the role of attention and embodied perception in film perception and should be considered when explaining spectators’ different experience of different kinds of cuts. (shrink)
de Bruin & Gallagher suggest that the view of embodied simulation put forward in our recent article lacks explanatory power. We argue that the notion of reuse of mental states represented with a bodily format provides a convincing simulational account of the mirroring mechanism and its role in mind -reading.
Positing the importance of sensorimotor contingencies for perception is by no means denying the presence and importance of representations. Using the evidence of mirror neurons we will show the intrinsic relationship between action control and representation within the logic of forward models.
We challenge the classic experience/expression dichotomous account of emotions, according to which experiencing and expressing an emotion are two independent processes. By endorsing Dewey's and Mead's accounts of emotions, and capitalizing upon recent empirical findings, we propose that expression is part of the emotional experience. This proposal partly challenges the purely constructivist approach endorsed by the authors of the target article.
Il saggio offre una ricostruzione sintetica delle più recenti acquisizioni delle neuroscienze cognitive con l’intento di sollecitare lo sviluppo di un approccio multidisciplinare e aperto a uno dei problemi filosofici per eccellenza: chi siamo? La scoperta della base neurale condivisa – i neuroni specchio – che si attiva in ciascuno di noi sia quando siamo attori sia quando siamo testimoni di esperienze analoghe, e del fatto che la sua attivazione non è mai identica ma modulata sulla unicità di ogni essere (...) umano, costituisce una fertile base di dialogo con le discipline psicologiche e con quelle riflessioni filosofiche – come la fenomenologia e la teoria del desiderio mimetico – che danno risalto alla radice intercorporea dell’intersoggettività e della relazione.This paper gives a brief summary of the most recent advances of cognitive neuroscience, in order to promote a multidisciplinary approach addressing one of the most ancient philosophical questions: who are we? The discovery of a common neural basis – mirror neurons – can be very useful: mirror neurons are in fact activated both when we live an experience as witnesses and as protagonists. Their activation is never identical but shaped in a different way for every person, and this fact constitutes a possible starting point in the dialogue with psychology and some areas of philosophy . Both these disciplines in fact stress the bodily roots of intersubjectivity and human relationship. (shrink)